Dec 21, 2009

Doing your own work...

An interesting article in the latest WIRED magazine covers the topic of people buying degrees (Bachelor, Master, and PhD) and this professor who discovered this million dollar scam and got the FBI involved.

Over the past year or so, I've continued to receive spam from a number of websites selling term papers, research papers, and other false documents - sites like this one. One goes down, another comes up. (I'm not giving anything away with this link - a simple Google search will turn up hundreds of these.)

There seems to be a growing trend, both in the USA and abroad, of people taking the shortcuts and not doing the work for themselves. The WIRED article talks about some of the people who have been tracked down with false credentials - these include many government workers and even a US Marshall!

Over the past few years, we've had a handful of people post requests for programs on the forum. Sometimes these requests have come from students who state quite clearly that the program is for an assignment. Apparently this problem has no age barriers.

I worry that one day I'll be driving across a bridge designed by a civil engineer who got his degree by simply paying $1500.00 for the piece of paper.

The contributors here at The NXT Step are good about pushing students who request hard answers to do the work themselves... but let's be honest and agree that the likelihood of a student who posts this kind of request actually saying "Okay, I'll go study more" is very slim. What are your thoughts?

9 comments:

Fay Rhodes said...

This kind of service should be illegal!

Shep said...

Two observations I have made; First, I have a BS in Mechanical Engineering. Over the last 4 years, I have been in about twelve interviews for engineering positions and not one of them has asked to see my diploma or any evidence that I actually earned my degree. But generally they ask enough questions during the interview to determine whether or not you are the right person for the job. Secondly, in my 12 years of being a degreed engineer, I have had two supervisors who were doing engineering work and neither had a degree in engineering. So in my experience, it’s not the piece of paper that makes the engineer, it is the person.

As for your worry about the bridge, all major constructions like that are looked at by more than one set of eyes. At that time, the unqualified person would be identified and dealt with appropriately (hopefully). But that doesn’t mean smaller items that are in our home that are looked at by only one set of eyes can’t be hazardous. That is why things like Underwriters Laboratory are so important.

Fay Rhodes said...

I should say that two of the brightest engineers I know do not have a bachelor's degree---but they are brilliant and own an international engineering/manufacturing firm.

I still think it should be illegal to sell papers for the purposes of fraud.

Andy Dannelley said...

I am in the middle with the “we don’t do your homework answer”. I DO NOT feel that we should “do their homework”, but sometimes some folks (including me) forget that “Google is your friend”. Instead of the canned answer “we don’t do your homework”. I like a question back to the student, “have you Googled xxx search term” followed by an answer “I did and found yyy number of responses”. I believe this can help students to learn how to research, instead of just asking for and getting canned answers.

Sometimes, when the problem the student is asking about is quite complex I have seen responses that describe a set of steps to go help the student through a process of analysis of the problem to break it down into smaller problems (which can still be quite involved) and then the student can find a solution to each of the smaller problems.

Sometimes, even a code fragment can be some help and can be a stimulus to inspire the student to complete the project on their own.

I have seen both types of answers to students, from “here’s the solution” to “we don’t do your homework.” I feel the answer to helping the students lies somewhere in between.

Brian Davis said...

Fay - there are lots of things that shouldn't be done. That doesn't stop (or even slow down) people from doing them, or getting around rules people put in place to try to limit them. I think the websites etc. that provide these services are run by shady, greedy, scammers.

But that's not what concerns me; those sorts will always be around.

The problem is the number of *students* who view these are valid options. I have some nearly every term (& a large number of them get caught). Until the student views an eduction as a goal unto itself, this sort of thing will thrive. The fact that most places don't bother to check the credentials (so that scams like this operate) says that we often value the end result (a degree, or a robot) *far* more than the value of the process (a true education, or learning about the design and troubleshooting process).

Shep - you note that things like bridges "are looked at with more than one set of eyes". That's a cost. You may have a system (double-checks) to filter out the mistakes, but by having folks like this in the workforce, you both increase the risk of something slipping through, as well as increase the cost because of poor work, double-checking, and redoing poor calculations. The fact that it doesn't lead to a fatal result doesn't make it any less destructive in my opinion.

Andy - I suspect all of us here have helped... let's say, "a significant number of people". If somebody is willing to *learn*, it's rather rare that they are brushed off with "do your own homework". The problem is the folks who aren't willing to work for what they want... and *do* find it easier via Google or Wiki.

There are reasons I don't make detailed plans for many of my creations (but leave a wealth of hints), or only put up most of my NXT-G stuff as images of code fragments (not executable, modifiable .rbt files). Believe me, I've been asked!

Dave Parker said...

Brian, be careful not to discount "learning by example" completely, it can work well in many cases. It's certainly not a substitute for thinking, but it may allow someone to clear a hurdle that then enables some further thinking.

Also, on teaching kids who don't seem to want to learn. I sympathize, and it's frustrating. I try to learn and think in everything that I get involved in and wish others would too. Let's hope that most of these shortcut takers are in many cases just trying to "get through" a particular class that they are not that interested in and will end up in a job where they are using skills they actually put more effort into. Still definitely not an excuse and short-sighted on the student's part, but maybe it will help a bit with that "driving over the bridge" feeling...

There is so much to learn. In fact, I think one of the big unsolved problems in education is that there is simply too much to teach a kid before s/he "graduates". You want everyone to start out well-rounded, but there is just too much to choose from in 18 or so years!

Brian Davis said...

"be careful not to discount 'learning by example' completely, it can work well in many cases."

Absolutely - that's why I put up examples (screenshots) on Brickshelf. That way, in order to use those examples, they must go through the steps to recreate them... not just "grab and use". The difference between learning by example, and copying from example, is often a matter of time invested... and there are ways to enforce use only after some time is invested :).

"Let's hope that most of these shortcut takers are in many cases just trying to 'get through' a particular class that they are not that interested in and will end up in a job where they are using skills they actually put more effort into."

That tends to teach them it's OK to get around the education when they don't think they need it. The problem is... they often don't know ahead of time what they do or doubt need (the point of an education). If what you're looking for is a trade school, great - take only the classes that deal with that trade, and ignore the bigger picture. If what you are trying to do is give people a true education... then yep, the history and psych and writing classes are at least as important as "the stuff you like".

As I've explained to my students each term, if I have to live in the world with you... if I have to be influenced by your job, or perhaps even more importantly your vote... than what I will strive for around me is a truly educated population. Because everybody here gets a vote, and they tend to be equal... regardless of critical thinking skills, work ethic, or informed background.

How does the bridge look now ;) ?

Dave Parker said...

Yep, I agree, that's what I meant by shortsighted... Some students are lazy, and some are mis-trained (unfortunately I think our standards and equality obcessed system encourages this mis-training to seek answers rather than thinking from an early age, so they are misguided before they even get to you...), but some may just think they are making a practical decision. They are thinking that the end result of lesson xyz is to learn z, and, stuck on x, they think seeking an answer to x will lead them to learn z. Many may be wrong, but in some cases they may actually be right. If they really cannot get unstuck on x, then cutting corners on x, then ultimately learning y and z is perhaps better than staying stuck at x and "failing". Problem is, it's hard to tell which is which (getting unstuck vs. just cheating yourself), especially for the young, who don't have the judgement and hindsight.

I personally wish that trying and failing were more acceptable in the schools, so that we would get more trying, more learning how to think, and kids would get to know their strengths better over time. As is (no child left behind and all) failing in any area is unacceptable, so the program evolves into one that ensures all kids end up with the answers necessary when it comes time to take that test. Urk.

I'm pretty sure we agree in principle here. I'm just blaming the schools rather than the students. The kids I work with are too young to make good choices on this, and then the schools mess them up before they even get to you. Double Urk.

James Floyd Kelly (Jim) said...

I've been following along on the back-and-forth comments... really enjoying the discussion.

It's unfortunate that not every student is given an equal education and encouragement from the "good teachers" that we all remember. My physics teacher in high school was outstanding - hands-on experiments, in-class demonstrations, and a requirement for us to keep a lab journal (and use it properly) all contributed to my desire to learn new things and do my own work.

I love making mistakes... it's how I know I'm not getting stagnant and taking shortcuts. I think we can all agree that students who don't do their own work are just hurting themselves - unfortunately, they don't realize it or won't realize it for a long time. I think we should all be encouraging kids (and adults) to investigate things for themselves, whether for personal, education, or work related needs.

Like Brian, I'm always glad to offer suggestions or a helping hand, but I have to see a desire to dig a little deeper rather than a "give me the answer" attitude.

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